Traditional Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal people traditionally painted on rock, on the body and in the sand  to tell the stories of their ancestors and their creation stories.

Aboriginal Rock Art

Aboriginal rock paintings appear on cave walls all over Australia.  The best-known are in the Kimberley area of West Australia.  This is probably the oldest art form.  The Wandjina, the ultimate creator,  hunting scenes and the Bradshaw figures or Mimi Spirits are found on many cave walls going back over 40,000 years.  This art form tells us about the activities, the spiritual beliefs and the social activity of the people of the time.

 

Aboriginal Bark Paintings

Painted on the bark harvested from trees.  The bark is first soaked in water and then smoked to create a flat shape for painting.  Bark was also used to make everything from  baskets to canoes.  Most bark works come from Arnhemland and northern West Australia.

 

Aboriginal Dot Paintings

These paintings come from the centre and western desert areas where dots, using acrylic paint are used to create and depict plants, animals, waterholes and land forms.  Originally done in ochre's the Aboriginal desert artists moved onto acrylic paints when they were introduced to them by the missionaries. 

Aboriginal Aerial paintings

 Many paintings of country are viewed from above, "bird's-eye view".  Painted by the artist sitting on the ground, they have been created with an intimate knowledge of land and tell the Dreamtime creation stories of the plants, animals, earth cycles and landscape.

 

Aboriginal Carvings and sculpture

Weapons such as spears for fishing, hunting and fighting were created out of stone and wood.  Coolamuns, baskets for food gathering and small animal and bird figures  were also carved out of the local wood.  Necklaces and other adornments worn for ceremony were made out of feathers and seeds.  Bush string to bind things together was made out of fibres from plants.  These fibres were also used to weave baskets.

 

Didgeridoos

The traditional wind instruments from North East Arnhemland were created out of a tree branch that was hollowed out by termites,  They were cut down and shaped to a long hollow instrument used in ceremony by the men.

 

ABORIGINAL SAND PAINTING

Symbols were drawn in the sand as maps showing the young initiates where to find waterholes, food and teach about hunting and how to recognize animal tracks.

Some very elaborate sand paintings were used for ceremony, they took days and days to create and once the ceremony was over were destroyed.

 

 

Ochres to acrylic paint

Traditionally Aboriginal people used natural earth pigments to paint on their bodies and in the caves.  Drawings were also done in the sand.  Things like feathers and pieces of fur, wood, leaves were stuck on the body with tree resins and plant glues.  Blood from animals such as kangaroos was used to paint, and in the Kimberley area is still used today.

At the beginning of the painting movement the artists at Papunya were supplied with water colours and acrylic paints, but other areas of the desert the Aboriginal artists still used the traditional earth pigments, at first they were reluctant to change and to reproduce sacred ancestral designs to be viewed by the public.

Because of the dramatic changes in Aboriginal lifestyle due to European occupation, there was concern amongst many of the seniors that a lot of important Aboriginal culture and spirituality would be lost if there wasn't a permanent record.

After much debate by these Aboriginal elders it was decided that some aspects of their sacred stories could be told on canvas as it would be a permanent statement of their culture. 

In 1985 the co operative, Warlukurlangu Artists Association was formed to implement this policy so that paintings could be viewed in the public domain.

Aboriginal Art Australia.....facts

Australian Aboriginal art is the oldest ongoing art tradition in the world, originally painted on the body for ceremony, on the walls of caves and on the ground.  The culture goes back over 40,000 years.

There are more than 100,000 individual rock art sites in caves around the country.

Australian Aboriginal art is now a world-wide art movement.

Before European occupation there were more than 200 different languages and over 600 dialects spoken, all but a handful of Aboriginal languages now exist, approx 20!

The Didgeridoo

originated in a small corner of north-east Arnhem Land and is the oldest wind instrument.  It is symbolic of Aboriginal music and is now played in many music bands by non indigineous people.  The didigeridoo or "yidaki" is made from tree branches that have been hollowed out by termites.

The term "Songlines"

refer to the pathways that criss-cross the country.  The ancient spirit ancestors followed these pathways when they created the people, animals and plant-life.  These ancient boundaries connected communities and created the pathway for the Aboriginal people to share their songs of creation.

Aboriginal people are connected to the land because of their spirit ancestors, they share this knowledge thru their ceremonies where painting, dance and music are all a part. 

The stories or lore is called The Dreamtime, these Dreamtime stories are celebrated and passed down generation to generation to ensure that Aboriginal culture is ongoing.

Aboriginal sand paintings

Sand paintings were created for significant ceremonies. 

The ceremony could be to depict the journey of a spiritual ancestor from a distant place;  as in the journey of the Tingari creator spirits, or to honor the coming of a season with abundant food, it might also be a survival map to teach the young initiates where food or waterholes are found.

The area for each sand painting is always carefully prepared, the ground is cleared and the surface is spread with termite-nest gravel mixed with water to a paste, when dried this hardens to give a firm surface.  The senior lawmen then create the Dreamtime story showing, land, animals, plants and spiritual symbols;  created with sand, ochres, leaves, feathers and sticks.  The designs can be a series of round circles, wavy lines, mounds or any of the many symbols that represent their Dreamtime journey and the land that it represents.

The majority of these sand paintings are restricted to senior lawmen.

Sand paintings can cover a huge area and can be as large as one hectare, they are always destroyed at the end of the ceremony.

Paintings on canvas that depict these ceremonies can often be over-painted to hide some of the sacred information of the Dreamtime story.  There can also be a repetition of pattern and design, the sacred designs hidden and only known to the initiated senior lawmen.


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